NEW HAVEN, CT – The New England Annual Conference met June 13 -17, 2018. Under the visionary leadership of the Right Reverend Dennis Vernon Proctor, it was held at the Hartford Marriott in Farmington, CT, but hosted by the Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, New Haven, CT, about 40 minutes away. Conference participants enjoyed the opportunity to go to their hotel rooms at the conclusion of conference sessions whether this was for 30 minutes, 2 hours or an early night’s rest. Bishop Proctor, known for his judicious use of time, while ensuring that all annual conference business was conducted, frequently surprised attendees by holding shorter than expected sessions. The following comments were heard about Bishop Proctor’s leadership at the 174th Annual Conference: “I use to leave Annual Conference feeling exhausted but not this year” and “I enjoyed being able to park my car for the week.”
Bishop Proctor has all the stateside annual conferences in his jurisdiction following the same general format while allowing for individual differences due to the unique character of each annual conference such as the Ushers’ March here in New England. This allows for an orderliness and familiarity between annual conferences which heightens our connection. In New England, some thought Bishop Proctor couldn’t do it again when it came to his shorter sessions reasoning that he was able to conduct all necessary annual conference business last year, in spite of beginning on a Wednesday, only because it was Bishop’s first annual conference in New England; they doubted that it could be repeated. Yet Bishop Proctor silenced these naysayers conducting all necessary business of the New England Annual Conference by hearing reports from the following persons and committees: presiding elders, pastors, evangelists, lay delegates, Admissions, acting Conference Treasurer, Christian Education, Finance, Budget, Necrology, the State of the Church, and the State of the Country, Conference Examiners, Holy Orders, and the Courtesy Committee.
The Episcopal Address detailed the Right Reverend Dennis Proctor’s vision for the New England Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Bishop Proctor, using as his foundation the theme of the AME Zion Church for the 2016-2020 quadrennial, “Reviewing Our Practices” noting the contrast between the denominations first 100 years in which the church experienced exponential growth compared to the last 70 years in which the denomination has been in a state of decline due to the drastic reduction in church planting. Bishop Proctor said these dire statistics make it clear that Zionites must commit to leading persons to Christ and then be intentional in encouraging their spiritual growth. Bishop Proctor recommended that we concentrate our efforts in reinvigorating the class leader or small groups in our local churches recognizing people are more likely to make commitments to individuals than to a larger more impersonal group, (e.g. their class or small group rather than the people whom they worship with). Bishop also reminded us that quality is the order of the day, and our worship services, programs, and events must reflect our commitment to quality and to giving God our best knowing that people won’t visit our churches for a second time if they don’t see quality reflected in everything we do. Bishop Proctor stated that the AME Zion Church has to know who we are as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ reviewing our practices so as not to be a church lost in the 18th, 19h, or 20th centuries, making clear that we are a faith organization or denomination rooted in the 18th century but which operates with a 21st century model of ministry. Bishop concluded his Episcopal Address by challenging the New England Conference to be persistent (Luke 2:52), resistant (Romans 12:1), and consistent (Luke 4:16). Bishop said that these three should lead to making positive life changes through Christ for the better, and for good.
Other highlights of the New England Conference included the following preachers: the Annual Message given by Rev. Kelsey Hopson, the Education Message given by Rev. Jacqueline King, the Missionary Convocation Meditation given by Rev. Joyce Johnson and the Missionary Message given by Bishop James Walker of the CME Church, Saturday Morning Mediation given by Rev. L. Christopher Lewis, and Sunday Morning Message by our own the Right Rev. Dennis V. Proctor. The School of the Prophets was led by Bishop Proctor who ably taught on the topic of “Minister Burnout and Depression”. Also, a presentation on mental health issues effecting our congregants was given by Rev. Zaniel Young, LICSW of the New Jersey Annual Conference with additional information given by New England’s own, Rev. Robin Woods-Barrant, LICSW. The Gertrude Hood Lay Council Scholarship Luncheon speaker was Sis. Xellex River, Connectional YACM and Eastern Region YACM Chair.
We gathered in Harford, CT. for the final session of the New England Annual Conference on Sunday morning. The Conference concluded in grant style as we worshipped and praised the living God - The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost and hearing once more from our Episcopal leader who preached a prophetic word in preparation for the Reading of Appointments to lay and clergy of all ranks, including pastoral assignments to local churches. God was very much present throughout the 174th session of the New England Conference.